The Church up Close: Day 1

As I’m writing this long overdue blog, I’m sitting in a Roman hotel room 250 meters away from Piazza Navona and 4,500 miles away from real life. I’m feeling blessed beyond belief.

To catch you up to speed, six months ago, I was offered (and, fighting back tears of joy, accepted — obviously) an invitation to make my first trip outside of the United States to attend a conference for journalists covering the Church hosted by the Pontifical University the Holy Cross in Rome (and sponsored by Our Sunday Visitor Institute). Knowing that canon law probably states somewhere that going to Rome and leaving your wife behind is grounds for an annulment, we made plans for her and my daughter, Olivia, to come with me on this trip of a lifetime.

Days after learning I’d be in Rome the first two weeks of September, the Vatican announced Mother Teresa’s canonization would coincide with my visit, and so Saturday, we found ourselves baking in the sun for Pope Francis’ jubilee audience for mercy workers and volunteers (he was so close to us that I could’ve high-fived him as he rode by on the popemobile). On Sunday, we sat on the shady rooftop terrace of a convent overlooking St. Peter’s Square, cheering wildly with 120,000 of our fellow pilgrims as Pope Francis declared the “saint of the gutters” was worthy of veneration by the worldwide Church.

It was a surreal experience, but on this trip, that’s nothing new. We’ve visited more than a dozen of the world’s most incredible Churches; seen the Colosseum and Roman Forum; gotten sore necks from gazing up at the Sistine Chapel; thrown coins into Trevi Fountain; eaten gelato while getting lost on postcard Roman streets; and so much more that I will write about soon.

And on Monday, the conference — titled “Covering Catholicism in the Era of Francis” — began.

Over the next week, I’ll be writing about highlights from the conference and also what most stood out from the previous day’s session as a few dozen journalists — some covering the Church for secular outlets and others from Catholic organizations — are guided through the inner workings of the Church.

Monday, Vatican journalists John Allen and Ines San Martin of Crux and Fox News’ Courtney Walsh discussed the necessary skills to cover the Church. Later, the group was given a tour of the art of historic Rome. In the final session, Msgr. Philip Whitmore, rector of the Venerable English College, discussed the education and formation of priests.

But the talk that had the most profound effect on me on Day 1 was from Father Paul O’Callaghan of the host school, the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross. Father O’Callaghan discussed the mission of the Church and how it is much like a chameleon that constantly must adapt to its time and surroundings, but it has a DNA that will not and cannot change.

We who cover the Church can often get wrapped up in the minute details of bishops and cardinals and councils and congregations, but Father O’Callaghan reminded us that, like the Church itself, we, too, have a mission.

“The priests of the new covenant are the journalists,” he said. “They are the ones communicating the truth to the people.”

It was a reminder that this job is not only important, it is a vocation in the most Catholic of senses — one I’m feeling more blessed to carry out than ever before.

More tomorrow, as we tour St. Peter’s Basilica, meet with the Vatican’s secretary for communications, get a better understanding of the Holy Office at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and explore the importance of interreligious dialogue.

 Scott Warden is associate editor of OSV Newsweekly.